Love is like Diving with Great Whites

 

John doesn’t like fish. He doesn’t like to eat them and he certainly doesn’t want touch or be in the water with them.

They swim around eating the poo of other fish. Who wants to eat that?”

I, on the other hand, love to scuba dive and observe these strange creatures in their natural habitat. It seemed like a wasted trip to South Africa’s western coast without visiting Shark Alley—the hunting grounds for numerous Great Whites. I figured since both of us loved nature television shows, John could overcome his distaste for fish for an up close encounter with these exceptional predators.

The day we were to go out, the ocean waves were abnormally choppy. Most of the other diving companies were going on the opposite side of the island, while our company was the only one to decide against doing this. Although the water would be calmer on the other side, sightings of Great Whites were less likely and they wanted to make sure we left happy.

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Posing in a replica of the cage

The waves were really rough. So rough that most customers became seasick and didn’t want their turn in the cage. Even when they were told it actually helped seasickness to get in the water, they refused. I chose to take their turn, staying longer in the cage and John lingered little longer too. With the overcast sky and wind, the July day felt colder than most in the southern hemisphere’s winter. Shivering in the Atlantic’s winter waters was worth it if it meant seeing these majestic carnivores at work.

These massive, unpredictable Great Whites approached from far below in the ocean’s shadows and within seconds they would be a few feet in front of us, sometimes inches. Their infamous white bellies being the only way to spot them in the murky water. They would breach, somehow propelling their large bodies above the surface of the water to snatch the bait. Their skill was so impressive you literally found your mouth dropping, causing you to accidentally swallow the salty water.

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Never looked better

I longed for an oxygen tank so that I could stay submerged and constantly look for the sharks. We were forced to take deep breaths before pulling ourselves under, gripping the iron hand rail. Often we would hear, “Shark on the left” yelled just as we surfaced for air. By the time we submerged again, we only saw one last flick of the shark’s exit. They were so quick! The water teemed with sharks so we still got our fair share of viewings.

When the captain said we needed to head back to land, we climbed back on board and tried to take off our full-length wet suits. Nothing was more comical than trying to remove these stubborn suits as the boat hit wave after wave. We would reach for our sandals and they would slide to the other side of the boat. When we moved timidly to fetch them, they would quickly return back to our seat. Trying to put my cover-up back on, I was rocked and thrown against walls blindly every time the boat would hit a wave. But it was all worth it.

We went on to kayak with penguins, hike out to Cape Point, visit Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens and ate as often as possible of the local cuisine. At the end of the week, I returned to my village and John went home. We just had to wait one more year for my service to end until we could see each other again, but in the meanwhile, we were high off of our South African adventures together.

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Relaxing in Cape Town’s Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens

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Georgia on my Mind

This past August I began my Writing M.F.A studies. When I applied, I was living in South Africa and completely unaware that I could take the classes online. Moving to Savannah, Georgia gave John and me the opportunity to finally live together somewhere new and exciting. But the move proved more difficult than we expected. It quickly became a story we like to tell friends over a few beers.


The weekend we planned to move to our new apartment, everyone else seemed to have the same idea. All of the Uhaul minivans were unavailable for weeks. I had procrastinated in reserving our own vehicle and now we (and by ‘we’ I mean John) were stuck driving a bulky 10′ truck down 95.

If you have ever seen a Uhaul truck, you know that the sides feature random facts with a corresponding image. When we went to claim ours, I was embarrassed to discover it was about slavery. It seemed like a cruel joke; a young, white couple moving their belongings to the Deep South with an image of a slave slapped on the truck. I worried what this would say about us.

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Uhaul’s prank on us

To save money, we completed the 11-hour journey (not including gas and bathroom stops) in one day. It seemed the trip would never end, but then we crossed the Talmadge Memorial Bridge just as the sun began to set.

Our landlady met us to give us the keys and then despite how tired we were from driving all day, we unloaded the truck. We wanted to turn the Uhaul in as soon as possible the next day so they didn’t tack on another day’s charge. Although we didn’t have much, we were exhausted and not thrilled about our next task.

The apartment was located in Midtown Savannah and that night there was a drunk who sensed an opportunity. He loitered around, slurring his offer to grab stuff for us. While I wanted to believe in his good-will to help, I just didn’t like how he kept eyeing up the boxes. Taking turns so as not to leave what little we had for the taking, we loaded as much as we could in our arms and schlepped up the two flights of stairs to apartment 206. After two hours of this workout, only the couch and John’s weights remained for the next morning. As long as we dropped the keys in the key box before the Uhaul dealer opened, we wouldn’t have to pay an extra day’s charge.

We were completely spent and famished. Of course, this was the perfect time to learn that not many restaurants in Savannah deliver. Our mattress also had not yet arrived, so we slept on the floor.

Then came the fun part. We got to explore Savannah. We went to Tybee Island’s beaches (such an upgrade from the dirty, overcrowded Jersey beaches we were used to).

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Enjoying our first time to Tybee’s beach

We went to Charleston, SC for a day exploring art museums, wandering down neighborhoods lined with historic homes and eating grits for the first time. While John didn’t care for the texture, I loved the cheesy, thick goo.

Charleston

Out back at Gibbes Museum of Art

We visited Savannah’s modest Botanical Gardens and pretended to be butterflies.

We spent sunny days in Forsyth Park and visited the farmer’s market early Saturday mornings for local produce and the best home-made curry.

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Our first time in Forsyth Park

And boy did we eat! Unlike the chain restaurants that litter the north, Savannah offered so many delicious and unique places that made us want expandable waist pants and stretch out on the couch after.

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Thanksgiving at the infamous Olde Pink House with my visiting mom and sister

Besides the oppressive heat in August, John and I loved Savannah. We loved how we constantly stumbled on new restaurants, we fell in love with the romance the Spanish Moss exuded, and everyone seemed friendly.

Nine months later, our Savannah chapter seems to be closing. Being in our late twenties, most of our friends from home are getting married. Our siblings have young ones we don’t get to spend time with and holidays away from family are difficult. Having lived abroad for two years, quality time with loved ones seems really important right now.

The job market and pay rate has also been a deciding factor for our move. John made a sacrifice to blindly follow me as I furthered my education, but penetrating the tightly knit southern job market proved more difficult. With most of my core classes completed, I will be switching online and hopefully finishing my degree Spring ’18 quarter. John, on the other hand, has multiple job offers back home and has decided to move back tomorrow.

This of course means that I finish the last six weeks of this quarter here by myself.

It means I walk through Forsyth alone, past the restaurants we took our families and friends, and home to an empty apartment where we first slept on the carpet floor completely spent but happy. It means I have no one to throw dirty socks at from upstairs and no one to hug when a grad school critique feels harsh. After living on separate continents for close to two years, you would think it would be easy for me.

I am excited for him though. And I am also excited to start the next chapter, whatever and wherever that is.

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Nelson Rocks: Ain’t No Mountain High Enough…

John and I really enjoy nature. Early on in dating we would go hiking since not only was it inexpensive, but it was a good way to get to know each other. It wasn’t expensive and the privacy of the trails allowed us to really open up to one another. As things got more serious, I wanted to introduce John to my favorite place to hike, the cascading trails throughout “Wild and Wonderful” West Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Autumn meant that all the trees would be flickering in burnt oranges, crimsons, and golds. It was also a great time for him to meet my college guy friends, a test in its own right.

John and my guy friends got on a little too well. We all had a few too many beers and when we woke up early the next day to drive the two and a half hours to Nelson Rocks, we were already looking forward to going to bed that night. Today’s “hike” was a bit more extreme than either one of us had done before. After I learned that a Via Ferrata−a climbing route using a steel cable to clip into−wasn’t far from my old college stomping grounds, I knew we had to go.

Nelson Rocks (an outdoor adventure company named after the rock formation they climb) suited us up with helmets and harnesses and then took us to the beginning of the course.

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The vertical incline didn’t have any promising foot/hand holds, so steel grips were inserted into the mountainside. The entire climb doesn’t have these ladder-like bars, only the sections that absolutely demand it. Looking straight up at what we were about to do hungover, we had second thoughts. But of course there was a family in front of us with a young boy half our age. If he was going to do it, we had to.

John clings to cliff face

The look of pure regret

After inching along, clinging to the cliff, we finally felt confident about completing the course.

WV Via Ferrata in Fall

That was until I saw the Indian Jones ladder we had to cross.

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My small body could easily fall between each plank if I didn’t properly clip in my two carabiners. But this obstacle, we too accomplished. The only thing left to complete was a six hour drive back to our Pennsylvania home in time for John to get to work.

Via Ferrata in Fall

John terrified about the state of my helmet

Irish Travels Gone Wrong

Traveling has always been important to me. I get anxious if I’m in a place for too long, so after a few years dating, I pressured John into taking a trip with me. He had never been abroad. In fact, he had never made ventured far from our Eastern Pennsylvanian hometown. He had helped a friend move from Florida back home, but that was about it so I knew this would be a big step for him. Both of us were proud of our Irish lineage and I thought the North Atlantic island would be a good place to start. After months of planning our itinerary, we flew to where the beer is dark and heady and the pastures really do have greener grass.

When we arrived, the customs worker asked if we were on our honeymoon. He either hadn’t noticed our bare hands or just asked every couple that. I shook my head and responded we just wanted to visit the country for a week. We planned on spending two nights in Dublin, one of which meant staying at a real castle (Clontarf Castle). Then we would take a bus to see Killarney, Galway, and finally stay on the quiet island of Inishmore before quickly returning to Dublin to fly back home.

As with all travels, there are factors you simply can’t control. For us, this included a bus strike, extreme winds when kayaking in Killarney, and stubborn horses more interested in grazing than permitting an easy ride through Killarney National Park. But by far our most memorable blunder was when we unknowingly entered an avant-garde art exhibit. This is our favorite story from the trip, one we told family and friends when we returned and one that shows the true essence of traveling as a couple for the first time.


The Situation

Any time you walk into a room and thirteen people say in unison, “Welcome. To. This. Situation,” you should run. You should punch whoever blocks your path, high-tail it to the nearest pub for a whiskey shot and say, “Fuck, we almost didn’t make it.” But my boyfriend John and I remained frozen in the doorway, too nervous to offend the creepsters than consider what would happen next. I apologetically squeezed his hand, unable to look over for his reaction for fear I’d laugh or cry. I’m sure this hadn’t crossed his mind when he agreed to go to Ireland with me.

The day had began as normally as it could, granted that we were in a different country. At our B&B we had the traditional English breakfast of fried eggs, sliced tomatoes, toast, bacon, and romance-generating beans. We left early for the Iveagh Gardens, eager to cram in as much of Dublin as possible. The central city park was filled with statues and in the process of seeing them all, we became disorientated.

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“No worries, let’s go this way.”

As we left the park, a sign for a free art exhibit caught my eye. Tourists go to the top ten must-sees, but travelers go where the day takes them, especially if it is free. Curious about what amateur Irish art would be, we walked in the door and were greeted by a bookish old woman who whispered for us to silence our phones before pointing to the stairs. We climbed the lime green staircase, admiring the roasted turkey breast wallpaper that dripped with a greasy forewarning. How unusual, how artsy.

As soon as we walked in the first door, I questioned if we did indeed have the right room. There were no paintings on the walls or even sculptures; the room was a bare white square. People were scattered looking in all directions at the nothingness. One man sat in the room’s center and a few knelt down. Just as we were about to turn around and try another room, it happened.

“Welcome. To. This. Situation,” they said in chorus and began to move in slow motion. One middle aged man added jazz hands, while the woman sitting on the ground slid across the floor and got up. Everyone glided in haphazard directions, taking turns to ask questions.

“What does it mean to exist?”

“Is there a god?”

“What are we doing here?”

Strange man, I was thinking the same thing.

The questions flowed one after the other, leaving no time to respond. Just as I was wondering how this artist cult planned to murder us, another woman entered behind us. John and I looked at each other with the same message, That’s our cue. The fifty-year-old woman grabbed my arm as we turned to leave.

            You should really stay. It gets interesting.”

I fumbled for an excuse, but gave up. We bolted down the stairs and outside into one of Ireland’s sporadic rains. I was about to apologize for my poor judgment, when he reached for my hand. John laughed, “Talk about a weird situation.”

I had an inkling he was the type of guy that wouldn’t run when things got scary or awkward so I squeezed his hand again.

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On Inishmore